Storied Paris Ritz reopens after four-year US$450 million refit

Ernest Hemingway and Marcel Proust stayed there, Coco Chanel died there and Princess Diana stayed there before her tragic demise

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2016, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

The Paris Ritz is finally back in business. On Monday, the storied hotel on Paris’s Place Vendome, the elegant, 18th-century square that now features the world’s most exclusive jewellery vendors, officially opened its doors after a four-year, US$450 million renovation.

With an original budget of about US$160 million, the Ritz, established in 1898, has long been a synonym for decadent excess. For one, room rates start at US$1,475 per night.

“When in Paris,” once observed the writer Ernest Hemingway, “the only reason not to stay at the Ritz is if you can’t afford it.”

The hotel’s most famous bar is named for Hemingway, who is a crucial figure in the mythology of this most mythologised of hotels.

On August 25, 1944, legend has “Papa” rolling into the Place Vendome, determined to liberate his beloved Ritz from the Germans, who’d used the hotel as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe, the Nazi air force, during World War II.

The Germans were already gone by then, but Hemingway, then a war correspondent for Collier’s magazine, stormed inside regardless, running up a bar tab that, by one account, apparently included 51 dry gin martinis by the end of the night. Presumably his compatriots shared at least a few.

The Paris Ritz was always a gilded palace of swan faucets and haute cuisine, but, post-facelift, the dowager queen of Parisian hotels will now feature more celebrations of its inimitable history. There is now a tea salon inspired by the writer Marcel Proust and the world’s first spa designed by Chanel, both of whom were regulars.

Like Hemingway after him, Proust was a fixture in the hotel in its heyday as a stomping ground for the highest echelons of Parisian society; he allegedly wrote certain portions of “In Search of Lost Time,” his multivolume masterpiece, in the hotel’s garden cafe. Coco Chanel, the fashion designer, died in the Ritz after decades of living in one of its suites.

So, for that matter, did Pamela Harriman, the former US ambassador and socialite, who died in 1997 after doing laps in the hotel’s pool. Later that same year, the Ritz was also where Princess Diana and her then-boyfriend, Dodi Al-Fayed – whose father, the Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed, still owns the property today – left before they died in a car crash in Paris’s Pont de l’Alma underpass.

To commemorate all of this history, hotel management commissioned the film director Zoe Cassavetes to make a short film that will capture the essence of the hotel.

The Ritz has been closed since August 2012. It was due to reopen in March this year, but a fire in January delayed plans until this month.

The Washington Post